Stone Week

This wasn’t really planned, but I ended up picking up a bunch of Stone beers the past few weeks. Turns out I got up 5, so we might as well do a full week of reviews. Most of them are somewhat out there, which is exciting.

Stone Week

The beers for Stone Week

Stone could very easily rest on its laurels and just print money by brewing Arrogant Bastard. They must brew a ton of that, but I’m still always seeing new and exciting beers from them. It’s great to see one of the leaders in the Craft Beer industry still crafting and tinkering.

Beer Trip: Short’s Brewing Company

Though it hasn’t made as many appearances on these pages as I would expect, it’s fair to say that all three contributors to  this site are big fans of Short’s Brewing. Their beers can be hit-or-miss, sure, but the main thing is this: they’re trying crazy shit. We’re big fans of experimentation in brewing, and there aren’t many widely-distributed breweries that are willing to do things like make a bloody mary-themed beer, complete with salty flavor, etc.

So, I’ve said all this to preface an admission: despite our love for Short’s, and numerous experiences drinking their products, none of us has ever made the trip to Northern Michigan to experience Short’s in the flesh.

Until now.

Thanks to a wedding in Traverse City, I found myself in the wild North of Michigan, and – as the plus-one of a member of the bridal party – an entire day with nothing to do. It is common sense what Short’s is, but I continued to journey on.

Location

I knew Bellaire was in the middle of nowhere, but man, Bellaire is in the middle of nowhere. From Traverse City, there are primary routes to take: along the Grand Traverse Bay, or around the other side of Torch and Elk Lakes to the East.

Short's Brewing Company factory

Short’s production facility. “Glory” is a term used loosely in this instance. Sweet rearview, bro.

Since the Short’s production facility is actually in Elk Rapids, about 30 miles from Bellaire, I took the Western route on the way up, and swung by the factory to experience its glory. It was not thrilling, and certainly not while I was just swinging by as I hustled to make it to the brewpub itself.

Elk Rapids is no metropolis itself, but is actually in a pretty cool location, on the channel between Elk Lake and the Grand Traverse Bay. As I said, I didn’t head into the town itself too much.

As for the brewpub itself, I’ve already mentioned that it’s… remote… and that’s the case. The town of Bellaire consisted entirely of a couple blocks, and the brewery is on the Western edge of that town.

Setting and Atmosphere

Bellaire is a quintessential resort town (but with no real reason to visit, other than the variety of lakes a short distance away, I guess), and Short’s is one of the few things that seems like it would bring people into the town. From the outside, it’s an unassuming building as part of a city block.

Short's Brewing Company Brewpub

The calm before the storm.

Stepping inside, however, thinks go from up North casual to that bustling feeling we’ve all come to know and love in brewpubs. All orders are taken at the counter – be they for food or beer – but wait staff actually brings the product to you once you grab a table flag and find a seat in one of two rooms.

The bar room is the one you enter walking into the storefront, but near the back of the space, there is a short set of stairs down into a larger (or at least more spacious) room. In that room, there is a nice stage for live music, and a number of hightop tables along the walls, and standard low-top tables with seating along the middle.

I would have love to have the opportunity to see some live music there, and if it wasn’t so remote, I would make a trip just to see that (and to get some more interesting beers – more about that in a moment). As it stands, it’s likely something that won’t happen without a special set of circumstances.

The Beer

So, I mention that there weren’t many great beers – or at least not exciting ones – on my trip to Short’s. That is in direct contradiction with my opening paragraphs, no?

Well, my speculation (the place was busy enough that I didn’t want to hassle any waitstaff about it) is that, thanks to the Michigan Brewer’s Guild summer festival in just a couple weeks, they’re holding off on presenting many creative offerings in the brewpub until after that event.

Short's Brewing Company beers

Flight paddle.

Regardless, I wasn’t going to drive that far North without trying a few brews – albeit a couple I’d had before – so I picked up a flight. The image at right shows (from near to far): 2009 Golden Rule, Alter Spalter, Autumn Ale, Spruce Pils, and The Magician.

The Spruce Pils tastes downright earthy, green, planty… it has the same flavor of the smell of a certain substance. I’ve had it before, this came as no surprise.

The beer that did surprise me – and again, it’s one I’d had before – was The Magician. It’s a nice brown ale, with plenty of toffee and caramel tastes in the malt experience. It’s lightly hopped – though the Short’s menu mentioned that makes it ideal for newcomers to beer (with the implication that it’s not good for anyone else), about which I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough.

The other three beers were mostly non-notable. They were good, solid beers, as is expected. Any other week(s) of the year, however, I wouldn’t have even bothered ordering them, instead opting for one of the more creative offerings you’d typically see on draft.

Summary

Short’s is known as a good brewery, and making the trip didn’t do anything to dissuade me from thinking that. It’s in the middle of nowhere, both an annoyance and part of what makes it so special. It’s worth making the journey only if you’re headed in that direction anyway, but on a standard week with a more creative beer list – and the chance to see a bit of live music 0 it can make for an excellent experience.

Review: Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet

I remember when I first heard of Black IPAs. There were posts trying to figure out what to call this new style. Is it a Black IPA? A Robust Porter? Cascadian Dark Ale? The industry seems to have settled on Black IPA, and they’ve started becoming fairly commonplace.

I remember the first BIPA I tried. I was at my go to bar, with my go to server (who has since changed jobs) looking down the draft list. I asked him if there was anything exciting, and he just nodded and started pouring me Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale. I’m not sure if that was the first major BIPA, but I know it certainly was a lot of people’s first BIPA. There are moments quaffing beer that are special, when you try something that you haven’t tasted before. That was one of those moments.

I continued to keep a look out for BIPAs and picked them up at bottle shops or ordered them at the bar when I found them. But after a while, more and more started showing up. Some of them still blow me away, but the hit rate seems to have gone down, and I tend to look for other styles.

Fred Armisen from Portlandia

BIPAS ARE OVER!

This is where I push up my hipster glasses and tell you how much better it was before Black IPAs were mainstream. I do worry that I’m becoming a beer snob who will turn up his nose at a perfectly good pint. Well, I decided to give it another go, and picked up a bomber of Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Black IPA. The brewer describes it:

Hoppy Feet has been lovingly crafted by combining Premium malt with lots of Amarillo and Columbus Hops.  Grapefruit and Pine are balanced on the nose and on the palate by a nutty, dark chocolate, roasted backbone.

This has been knocking around in my “cellar1” for a while. I generally try to drink hoppy beers fresh. I think you get more of what the brewer is trying to produce that way. This may not be a completely fair shake, so I might try it from a tap if I see it around to compare.

Tasting Notes

Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet

Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Black IPA

Appearance: The beer pours a very, dark copper, with very little translucence. Holding up it the light, you get some flashes of ruby. There was a one finger, creamy head that receded quickly down to about half a finger and remained there.

Aroma: The aroma is a mix of a spicy hops with a strong caramel note from the malt base. The nose is incredibly well balanced.

Taste: Unfortunately, the taste isn’t as well balanced as the nose. The first flavor is a muted malt taste, that is immediately followed by an intense bitterness that mixes with alcohol heat and some acridity from the dark malts. The after taste is a lingering, coating bitterness that stays on my tongue.

Mouthfeel: The beer is very smooth with a slightly heavy body for an IPA. There’s a bit of carbonation from the bomber, but nothing too effervescent.

Overall: Maybe I’ve just been in a BIPA overload, but this beer doesn’t really do much for me. The bitterness overpowers the malt flavors that I want, yet manages to accentuate the acridity that I would want to hide. Also, while I enjoy hoppy beers, I don’t care for the lingering and sometimes muddy bitterness in a lot of IPAs. The best hop bombs, Firestone Walker Double Jack and Bell’s Hopslam (short list, and strictly my opinion), have a great hop nose with a deceptively strong malt backbone to stand up to the hops. The bitterness also is cleaner, with more flavor, be it citrus, spice, earthiness, grassiness, rather than just unplaceable bitterness.

  1. My “cellar” is a couple of cupboards above my microwave.

Review: Alba Scots Pine Ale

Williams Brothers make some interesting beers. I’ve written about their elderberry beer earlier, and I haven’t quite had the cajones to give their seaweed beer Kelpie a go.

Pine needles actually have a long history in brewing. In colonial American, many homebrewers would just use pine needles or spruce tips as a bittering agent since they were plentiful and much easier to cultivate initially than hops.

Alba Scots Pine Ale

Alba Scots Pine Ale – 7.5% ABV

Appearance: The beer poured a dark, coppery amber with a finger or two of creamy head that has dissipated quickly. There are some bubbles floating up from the bottom.

Aroma: The beer smells very sweet with a hint of the pine. There’s some floral notes in there too, but I’m not sure where they’re from.

Taste: Very sweet. Fruit, molasses and brown sugar come to the front. Not much bitterness at all. I’m searching for that resinous, piney flavor, but it’s just not there. The taste is almost all malts and yeast.

Mouthfeel: The carbonation could actually be a bit higher. The beer is a bit cloying as it is. The extra bubbles could help brighten it up a little. Overall, it’s a bit heavy and sweet.

Overall: I was honestly hoping for more aromatics from the pine. If it wasn’t on the bottle, I honestly never would have guessed that there was any pine in this beer.

Brooklyn Waterfront Beer Festival

A little bit ago, Nate and I attended the Brooklyn Waterfront Beer Festival. Nate had moved to Manhattan about a month ago, and I had never been. He found out about the festival somehow, and I found a reasonable flight. We bought our tickets and, in no time at all, a plan was hatched.

There was an afternoon session and an evening session available (each 2.5 hours long). We opted for later session to give us more time during the day to do the standard touristy stuff, and ending at 9:30p, the later session transitioned nicely into Bar O’Clock. This festival had some pros and cons, so lets start off on the happy notes.

What they did right

View from the festival

Looking out onto Manhattan

The location of the festival was amazing. It was where 11th Ave ended into the river in Brooklyn and it featured some great views of the sun setting behind Manhattan. Also, the neighborhood around the festival had tons of cool bars. Most notably, Brooklyn Brewery was about 2 blocks away. We didn’t make it there, but it looked like plenty of people decided to stop by.

Like I said earlier, the timing of the festival was really nice. It ended early enough that we weren’t too exhausted to head out for a few drinks afterward. Initially, we were a little worried that it was only 2.5 hours, but that proved to be more than enough time for us. The crowd and lines really weren’t bad at all. We were able to get to the beer we wanted very quickly.

They did actually have a lot of good beer there. There were a lot of breweries from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic that I never see in Chicago. They also had some places I really didn’t expect to see, including a meadery from Colorado that had a delicious, dry hopped mead. Unfortunately, a lot of the beer notes are going in the next section…

What Went Wrong

First, and very quickly, when you’re hosting an event with well over 500 people and the equivalent of an open bar, you need more than 2 port-a-johns. It was gross. I don’t really know how the women there were physically able to use the facilities.

Let’s go back to the beer. There were a few local breweries that had their taps manned by people from their brewery. 508 Restaurant and Bar had their brewer there to answer questions, and providing a nice Black IPA and Saison. Most tables, however, were put together by distributors, with the tenders knowing either the rehearsed sales pitch for the brewery or even less.

I was excited to see some of the bigger, more national craft brewers there as well. Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Ommegang, Allagash and Goose Island all had tables, but the beers that were being poured were al the standards. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Michigan Brewers Guild festivals, but the beer choices all seemed uninspired. I think this is largely due to the event being put on by an events company working with distributors, rather than brewers working together with an event company coordinating. Beyond that, I really don’t think Blue Moon and Negro Modelo belong at a craft beer festival, but that could just be snobbery.

Finally, since the beers were being put together by the distributors, you’d think they could put together a list that had some variety instead of half of the booths having at least one Black IPA, IPA, DIPA or IIPA. There were very few malty beers, very few belgian style beers, and virtually no contrast.

The Best Beers There

Like I said, I enjoyed the two beers from 508. Firestone Walker Double Jack is always a winner in my book even among a sea of hop heavy beers. The dry hopped mead was delicious as well. The best beer we had though, was the Innis and Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer. I think it won out for two main reasons. First, it was a contrast from all the hop heavy beers at the festival. It was malty, sweet (but not cloying) and delicious. Secondly, it was a flavor profile I hadn’t had before. I’ve had scotch ales before, and I’ve had beers aged in rum barrels before, but the combination was something new and exciting. Those moments of discovery is why I enjoy going to beer festivals and tastings and events. Those are the moments that event coordinators should try to create.